136. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Ambassador Beam’s Talk with Gromyko on the Middle East

Ambassador Beam met with Gromyko on February 112 to follow up on your response to the message to Kosygin.3 He was under instructions to stress (1) the need for a cease-fire in which both sides would stop shooting, (2) our continuing interest in talks on arms limitation, and (3) our desire for a more positive response to our proposals for a peaceful settlement between the Arabs and the Israelis.

Gromyko’s Response

Cease-Fire: Gromyko said that the USSR could consider neither a cease-fire nor the whole Mid-East situation outside of the context of the actions which Israel is taking. Israel is carrying out systematic, provocative attacks on the Arab states. “Neither the USSR nor USA has received reports that UAR actions are not consistent with UN decisions.” [Beam later rebutted this allegation.]4 The fault lies with Israel.

Arms deliveries: Gromyko reminded us of the position Kosygin took in his recent message to you.5 Moscow is not against discussing limitations on the delivery of arms to the Middle East but for all practical purposes such discussion “is not possible” as long as Israel occupies Arab territories. When the question of the withdrawal of Israeli troops is resolved, as well as other problems relating to a Middle East settlement, arms limitation talks on the Middle East could “begin.” Though he did not think there would be any tremendous difficulties, any possible agreement would depend, however, on the concrete positions of the parties.

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Gromyko also said that the Soviets had “paid attention” to the part of your message to Kosygin on the U.S. restoring the balance if anything is done to benefit the Arabs. The USSR, according to Gromyko, regrets the way we have posed this question. Israel is the source of the tension in the Middle East and the U.S. would be in a “more just position” if it exerted maximum pressure on the Israelis.

Instead the U.S. says that the USSR should exert pressure on the victims of Israeli aggression and hints that in the interest of maintaining the balance we will take certain steps (like new deliveries of Phantoms).

U.S. Proposals: The U.S. proposals for a peace settlement are one-sided, pro-Israeli and not objective. The USSR had made many efforts to reach an agreement, but every time there was “some rapprochement” of positions the U.S. would retreat to previous positions and undermine positive movement in the negotiations. This is reflected in the Four Power talks where the U.S. is taking a take-it-or-leave-it approach and which promises little in the way of achieving agreement.

Nevertheless, Gromyko later in the conversation said that the USSR remains ready to continue the Two Power talks, though he would like us to take a “more constructive position.” The USSR is puzzled by the lack of progress since we seem to agree on the fundamentals. Perhaps misunderstandings here or there are taking place. The USSR is ready to do whatever is necessary to normalize the situation and not worsen it, but this does not all depend on the USSR.

Comment: The general thrust of Gromyko’s response seems to be a firm reiteration of the positions the Soviets have been taking for some time. They continue to place the entire blame for the escalation of the fighting on the Israelis and picture the Arabs as the innocent victims of U.S.-Israeli collusion. They show no inclination to press Nasser on the restoration of the cease-fire or a peace settlement. Similarly, the Soviets continue to reject serious consideration of limiting arms shipments to the Middle East on the grounds that nothing constructive can be accomplished until there is a peace settlement. At the same time, they leave the door slightly open to continuing bilateral talks with us or multilateral talks including the British and French as a means of constructing a diplomatic alternative. Their basic problem is that to be really helpful to the Arabs they would have to provide effective military support. But this, they fear, could lead to confrontation with us.

Gromyko’s response points up the Soviet dilemma but does not provide new evidence of their intentions. They are not anxious for a confrontation with us over the Middle East even though Kosygin’s letter itself injected strong elements of confrontation. But they are under increasing pressure to do something for Nasser and may already have made some new commitment to him, at least to increase the pressures on the U.S. and Israel. Their immediate aim may be to force the Israelis, [Page 407] through us, to cease the air attacks on the Egyptian heartland. Failing that, they seem to be preserving the option of offering some new movement in the Four Power or even the Two Power talks which might persuade us to hold off on arms deliveries to Israel, or—if that doesn’t seem feasible or attractive—involving themselves more directly in the defense of the UAR. We cannot be sure that the Soviets have irrevocably decided to come to Nasser’s aid with more and improved weapons and/or direct involvement of their own people in the hostilities. On the other hand, the present diplomatic exchange could be mainly for the record and to justify such a move.

In short, the Soviets continue to walk on a dangerous tightrope and seem not yet to have decided on a definite course. All that seems clear is that at least on the surface they have left the most important options open, while trying to force the Israelis to call off their attacks and prevent us from sending more Phantoms. The tough and dangerous decisions—whether and how to bail out the Egyptians or whether and how to make a genuine diplomatic move that would persuade the Israelis to stop their attacks—are still ahead for the Soviets.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Drafted by Sonnenfeldt and Saunders on February 12. The draft contained the following concluding sentence that Kissinger deleted: “I believe we must continue to confront the Soviets with the risks of intervention while leaving open the possibility for genuine diplomatic negotiation.”
  2. See Document 133.
  3. Document 126.
  4. Brackets in the source text.
  5. Document 121.